Five Songs for Flute & French Horn
An unaccompanied duo.

  • "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting"
  • "Behold the Child among his new-born blisses"
  • "The world is too much with us, late and soon"
  • "Do not go gentle into that good night"
  • "O soft embalmer of the still midnight"

Duration: 14' 30"
Difficulty: 4/5

Click here to view score.
Notes
While not strictly programmatic, Five Songs for Flute and French Horn traces a path through five passages in life: birth, youth, middle-age, old-age, and death. As in life, each song-passage contains within it the seed material for the next. The quotations were selected from poems that were influential during the composition of the work. All of the songs are in an A-B-A form and the entire cycle is in an “arch” form. The musical language of the work is based on a series of twelve tones which serve as key centers and direct the harmonic progressions. The Flute and French Horn are unaccompanied throughout. The work is dedicated to my father, H.E.D. Redford.

“Both individually and altogether, the Five Songs for Flute and French Horn have the lyrical and philosophical qualities, in their own musical way, of the five poetical texts that influenced their composer. The first three are by William Wordsworth (1770-1850), and were composed during the poet’s most vigorous years.

The first poem celebrates an arrival, but from an ideal world, or in a Platonic sense, the real world, the real home of the soul of man. In the second, the creative efforts of the child, still the center of his world, come from his soul but are not fragmentary and shaped much more by the physical senses. The third, a sonnet, is the cry of a grown man who feels himself torn from nature, cut off from a force not of the intellect but of the soul. The striking image of Triton came to Wordsworth from one of his favorite poets, Edmund Spenser’s Colin Clout’s Come Home Again (1591).

“Do not go gentle into that good night,” number four in this set, is next in this progress of the soul of man. It is a villanelle of Dylan Thomas, lamenting the death of his father and at the same time asking him for a message as he passes away, for the death of the father will leave a void that the son realizes he must try to fill as the one surviving in this world and most like the one departing into the ambiguous realm of night.

Finally, number five, there stands Keats’ sonnet evoking sleep, but also an invitation to death. “Soul” is the last word of this poem and certainly the central word of the first lines of Wordsworth that shed their influence on this music.

In Redford’s Five Songs the poetic unity of the idea is expressed by flute and horn in an extended demonstration of the natural affinity between their sounds, unmistakenly unique though they are. The work was composed especially for these performers.” (Gilbert D. McEwen, Is this the way to Carnegie Hall?, Crystal Records)
Text
I. "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting"
William Wordsworth, from Intimations of Immortality

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar


II. "Behold the Child among his new-born blisses"
William Wordsworth, from Intimations of Immortality

Behold the Child among his new-born blisses,
A six year’s Darling of a pigmy size!
See, where ‘mid work of his own hand he lies
Frettied by sallies of his mother’s kisses,
With light upon him from his father’s eyes!
See, at this feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life,
Shaped by himself with newly learned art.


III. "The world is too much with us; late and soon"
William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. — Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.


IV. "Do not go gentle into that good night"
Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


V. "O soft embalmer of the still midnight!"
John Keats

O soft embalmer of the still midnight!
Shutting with careful fingers and benign
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close,
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities;
Then save me, or the passèd day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes;
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key defly in the oilèd wards,
And seal the hushèd Casket of my Soul.
Commission & Performance History
Five Songs for Flute and French Horn was commissioned by John Barcelona and Calvin Smith of the Westwood Wind Quintet, Los Angeles, California, and premiered on September 17, 1982 at California State University in Long Beach. The work was recorded by John Barcelona and Calvin Smith for the album Is This the Way to Carnegie Hall? (Crystal Records).

Two movements from Five Songs for Flute & French Horn were performed by Wendell Dobbs, flute, and Stephen Lawson, horn, during J.A.C. Redford’s 2004 residency at Marshall University.